Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Memories of 2013 part 9: Enemies, opponents and rivals

One thing I really enjoy about following a show closely is the language that it can teach me. The first series I remember fondly for this is BAKEMONOGATARI, . Translating a certain drama CD back in the day also taught me a lot about how love is expressed differently in English and Japanese. Now, as I'm watching more Korean dramas, I've also finding the nuances of this particular aspect of human interaction fascinating. But to return to what I found to be the most contentious term this year, Taichi's "teki" in episode 19 of CHIHAYAFURU 2; whilst the debate over what is the correct interpretation has been really frustrating for me, I'm really glad that all the research I had to do has given me a much better grasp of how 'enemy', 'opponent' and 'rival' are expressed in Japanese. Care to have a gander?


To begin, let me note that this is more complex than a lot of people seem to think. The debate on Animesuki over the translation of Taichi's "teki" remained polarised between the two terms of "enemy" and "rival." On the mangafox forums, I kept getting attacked for trying to argue that it is more complex that than. Admittedly, I probably tried to draw lines a little too finely then but following a reread of some parts of CHIHAYAFURU, I've come to realise that there is only one additional term that we need to pay attention to: "opponent." To demonstrate why, I will first lay out how these three concepts are typically expressed in the Japanese language. Following that, I will draw evidence from the manga to show why, out of the three, "opponent" is the most accurate translation, though it ultimately remains inadequate.

The sources I have used will be given in [square brackets], and refer to the following:

*() - the version I downloaded on the iPad and the one in the electronic dictionary that I picked up in Japan five years ago are pretty much the same for this entry.

* The Genius English-Japanese dictionary that's also in my electronic dictionary.

* A core group of Japanese friends from the uni I work and study at.

* various Japanese websites and blogs that discuss the terms in question.


"Enemy" is expressed in several ways in Japanese, including "teki," "kataki," and "raibaru" (= 'rival' written with Japanese sounds) [Genius]. However, most English-Japanese dictionaries do not go into much detail about differences in meaning - for that, you have to consult a good Japanese-English dictionary, or a good Japanese-Japanese dictionary. And here's what I found.

The 'enemy' most commonly encountered in Japanese news and other media is the one related to war. I've encountered it in quite a few dramas and anime, such as NHK's SHINSENGUMI and CODE GEASS, where it is used to refer to units and people on the opposing side of a conflict. I've also seen it in the news, especially recently, with the tensions being ratcheted up in Northeast Asia. Japanese is known for being euphemistic in the news and official government documents, but nevertheless, the word used in this case tends to be "teki" ( ).

But there are other kinds of 'enemies' in English that we might want to express in Japanese, such as "the enemy of women" (e.g. Servant x Service episode 4 @ 08.17) "England, the old enemy" (an example from sport - cricket), or "a bitter enemy." A little bit more research suggests that "teki" is used for the first and second examples, "ribaru" for the second as well, and "kataki" () for the third. [Daijirin, friends, WWW]


As with 'enemy', there are several ways of expressing 'opponent' in Japanese: in order of commonality of use, these are "aite" (), "taikousha" (), "teki" (- yup, the same character/pronunciation as above) "hantaisha" () [Genius]. According to the same dictionary, "aite," "taikousha" and "teki" are all used in the contexts of sporting matches and contests, debates and conflicts/disputes etc, whereas "hantaisha" tends to refer to a person who opposes something rather than someone else.

What's important to note is that, as in English, no matter what Japanese term is used, the idea of 'opponent' is actually quite neutral. By this, I mean that the terms themselves does not entail that there is enmity in the relationship in question, unlike with the notion of 'enemy'. In other words, whether there is enmity or not has to be discerned from other facets of the relationship between the two people in question - the use of any of these terms themselves does not signify what where it lies on the spectrum from bitter enemies to friendly rivals. [Friends]

Another significant thing to note is that whilst "aite" is the most common term used for "opponent," just as "teki" does not always translate best into "enemy," "aite" does not always translate best into "opponent." The example that comes to mind has to do with relationships - in this case, "aite" actually refers to one's partner, companion, or in the case of romantic relationships, the person that one is interested in, dating or married to. This caveat is particularly significant for understanding that controversial scene in Chihayafuru. [Daijirin]


Finally, "rival" is also conveyed in a number of different ways in Japanese. The most commonly seen one is, if I'm not mistaken, "raibaru" (= "rival" being used as a loan word) even though it doesn't show up in the Genius English-Japanese side (it shows up when I search for it as a Japanese word). Other terms include "kyousou aite" (= fellow competitor), "taikousha" (- same as above, i.e. opponent), "koutekishu" (= literally, 'good enemy hand/person'), and "douryou" (= colleague/associate) or "nakama" (= associate/comrade). [Genius, WWW]

There is one more way of expressing rival that we should take note of, one that is specific just to romantic relationships: "koigataki" (= rival in love). Just as with "opponent" above, the use of this term does not actually indicate where the rivals in questions lie on the spectrum of "friendly" to "bitter." Whether there is enmity in the relationship between the two rivals, a sense of competitiveness, or sadness at liking the same person, or resignation on the part of the one who knows that he/she is on the losing end, or any other emotion, has to be discerned from other facets of the relationship. [Friends]


Returning to CHIHAYAFURU at last, let me begin with how the word "teki" is generally used in the story. It's actually used quite a lot, but always to mean an 'opponent' on the karuta field.

* "teki-jin" - the opponent's side (e.g. = "opponent's cards"; = "the enemy's formation")

* "teki" - opponent (This was left out of the anime, but was translated on as "enemy)

The other word for opponent, "aite," is also used frequently, e.g.:

* "shosen no aite" ( = "our first opponent" (translated here as "our first match is against")

* "aite ha Fujisaki no sannen" ( = "my opponent was a third year from Fujisaki")

* "aite sonna tsuyoin desuka?" (v14c78p7 = Kana: "Is (Chihaya's) opponent that strong?")

* Suou's "aite ga toru" ("your opponent takes a card") and "aite ga misu wo suru" ("your opponent takes the wrong card") in c123

And then we have "raibaru" for "rival," although in at least one case - Chihaya when congratulating Taichi after he won at the high school tournament and rose into Class A, the character for "teki" ( ) is also used:

* Hyoro regards Taichi as his "raibaru"

* "tsumari raibaru (teki)" ( = "that means he's now a rival!")

On balance, "aite" appears more often, whereas "teki" is used when referring to the opponent's card placements in a match, or sometimes, one's opponent. In the match when they were kids, Hyoro's use of "teki" was in direct contrast to the idea of the "team" that Arata wanted to try playing on. The three of them were meant to be on a team, but it seemed like they were competing against each other. And in fact, a similar contrast appears for Taichi's use of "teki" after the high school team tournament:

Here, following Arata saying that the only team for him was the one with Taichi and Chihaya, Taichi observes that whilst Chihaya wants to play on a team with Arata again

Taichi himself doesn't want to play on the same team

because he see's Arata as a "teki."

Given this direct contrast, the most direct translation of Taichi's "teki" in this scene would be "opponent." There is an important similarity in that both terms are quite neutral in this context, so we have to look at Taichi's body language and overall behaviour towards Arata on other occasions in order to decide some of the other feelings are encompassed in his use of that word. But there is also a significant difference between the English word "opponent" and the Japanese word "teki," in that the latter also encompasses the meaning of "rival," particularly "rival in love," whereas "opponent" does not. The more common Japanese word for "opponent" - "aite" - cannot be used in this context because it actually refers to the target of one's affections instead of the rival for those affections. Hence, I think we can easily say that Taichi's "teki" encompasses both the "opponent on the karuta field" and the "rival in love" meanings. But as noted above, both meanings are actually quite neutral by themselves. Hence we have to look elsewhere in order to figure out how he feels about seeing Arata in this way.

To summarise, I don't think there is one word in English that is able to express what Taichi meant by that "teki." My own sense is that "opponent" is the most appropriate because both "enemy" and "rival" are loaded terms, with negative and positive connotations respectively. Using "opponent" instead means that we have to look at both at Taichi's body language in this scene, and at other instances where he interacts with or thinks about Arata, in order to form arguments about how Taichi feels towards his childhood friend. But that is a whole other essay, one that I will have to tackle at some other time.


Let me finish with a short comment about the translators who work on CHIHAYAFURU. Given what I saw of the translations of the official subs for the anime, my own opinion of them is as follows. The editing was decent, as the flow of the English was generally good. However, the translation was not particularly trustworthy, as they got several things wrong over both seasons (e.g. "suisen," which means "recommendation" rather than "scholarship"; and "kanji," which refers to "hearing" rather than "game sense"). Most of the fan translators I've come across are worse on at least one front; I won't say anything about relative translation accuracy here, but in terms of editing, there is only one translator whom I would say has skills worthy of the story. Unfortunately, that person does not regularly work on CHIHAYAFURU. This is, of course, my own opinion; that said, I am confident that I have both the English and Japanese skills to claim that it is a fairly objective one. YMMV.
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